The arts and culture industries remain largely at a standstill in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, affecting millions of workers in an already delicate ecosystem. The Broadway Community Project, from industry veterans Greg Schaffert, Tiffani Gavin, Situation Interactive, and Playbill, was developed to shed light on the myriad fields and roles that go into making the curtain rise.
In the Broadway Community Project series, we shine a spotlight on the faces you may not see on stage, but are nevertheless critical in creating and maintaining a theatre production. These are just some of the arts workers who have put their stamp on an industry that contributed over $14.7 billion to the New York economy in 2019 and $877 billion in value added nationally; these are just some of the arts workers in need of relief, even as Broadway theatres prepare to welcome back audiences.
Today, meet Rebecca Jean Heroff. While she likens the Broadway community to “a big family,” she’ll make sure you remember the mantra “props is tops.” As a house props person, Heroff facilitates the steady load-in and load-out of productions at the theatre while maintaining various fixtures of the space (such as seating, the pit, dressing rooms, and green room). The house props team is also present during rehearsals and during the run of the show, and will often be among the first crew members to walk through the stage door for each performance, mopping and vacuuming the stage before others arrive. Learn more about Heroff and her work below.
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Name: Rebecca Jean Heroff
Title: House Prop Person, Booth Theatre
How did you get your start in your field?
I've had a love for theatre since I was a small child, dressing up and putting on shows in my Gramma's front yard. In college I majored in Theatre and Fine Art. I guess I got my start from just never letting go of my love for theatre. Professionally, I got my start in NYC by first getting my union card (IATSE Local One). I was then lucky to work for over 15 years as a production prop person on various shows including Doubt, The 39 Steps, and The Trip to Bountiful. I've also worked for many years as an outside prop person (prop shopper) on Broadway shows and at NBC on SNL and Late Night With Seth Meyers. I feel all of my experience has given me a strong foundation for the job I have now as the house prop person at The Booth Theatre.
What is a typical day like for you on the job?
A typical day for a house prop person begins around 5:30 PM for an 8 PM show. I come in an hour before the rest of the crew so I can mop the stage (and/or vacuum, depending on the set). Then at 6:30 PM, the rest of the crew comes in to do the pre-set. For me, that involves setting all the props for the top of the show and addressing any prop problems from the previous show. At 8 PM the show starts and during the show I might have various cues and moves to do. Then after the show I might have a clean-up—for example, on the show Indecent, I had to sweep up sand and use a mega shop vac to vacuum up gallons of water from a rain effect that happened at the end of the show. Note: If there is ever a mess on stage, it's props that cleans it up—that's one reason people jokingly say, "Props is Tops." In addition, sometimes during a typical work week a house prop person might have to come in for a rehearsal or a work call—those would be four-hour calls usually starting around noon.
Did you have a mentor while developing your career?
I have learned from and have been inspired by some amazingly talented artists, stagehands, and friends. I so appreciate each and every person I've had the privilege of working with creatively. I'd like to think I've learned a little something from each one of them; they truly made me who I am today. I'd also like to acknowledge the women of IATSE Local One, especially the sisters that broke that glass ceiling in the 1970s and opened the stagedoor for all the rest of us.
What are three skills someone in your position must possess?
Continuity, problem solving, and creative empathy.
What's your professional life like during the coronavirus pandemic?
During the pandemic, it’s been very slow going. Our last show at the Booth, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, loaded out in August 2020. Then in spring 2021 we were in for about a week to do the Michael Kors spring fashion show—the only other thing we were in for was part of the Come From Away taping. One thing I have been lucky to do during the pandemic is work on SNL. It's usually just one day a week, but it was still fun. Strange during the pandemic because I couldn't go into the building...but still fun.
How can people learn more about your job?
You can learn more about my job and learn about being a stagehand by going to the IATSE Local One website. You can learn more about my job specifically by checking out my Instagram page. I do a daily photo of #whatsbackstage; unfortunately, during the pandemic it’s been slow, but when we get back up and running, I will be posting daily once again.
What does it mean to you to be a part of the theatre community?
For me, being a member of the theatre community is like having another family. The theatre community is one of the most supportive and accepting communities around. If one of us is in need, we jump to help; if one of us is hurting, we hurt and try to make things better; we all work together with an amazing passion we all share.